For the past month or so, I’ve caught myself wanting to kind of …drop out of the world for a little bit.
It’s an odd feeling that’s hard to articulate. It comes into my head, usually on some random Tuesday, as I’m signing out of a meeting or cooking dinner or putting my kid to bed. When I’m tired, when my mind is jogging ahead, taking inventory of one responsibility after another scribbled on my calendar.
I find myself wishing that time could stop for a little while; that the world could forget I’m here; that I could disappear like a walking-stick insect on a tree branch, or a flounder on the sandy ocean floor.
Spring is usually a busy time in our house and often a busy time at work for me. It’s a new year and my design clients have a lot to get done in the first quarter. Birthdays and family events and renovation projects and traveling fill up our weekends. It’s all stuff I’ve signed up for, all stuff I want to happen. But, nonetheless: by June I feel pretty burned out sometimes.
I’ve learned to recognize the symptoms. I feel drained but I also can’t sleep. When I do manage to fall asleep, somewhere south of 3am, I’m floating in choppy seas on incoherent dreams. A feeling of dread and loss dogs me there and lingers after I wake, often still tired. It gets hard to think about the future. My memory gets spotty. The next day arrives too soon. I feel like I’m stumbling down a hill, tripping and falling, trying to grab onto something but I can’t slow down, regain control.
Wait, I want to say. I need a minute. Let me take a breath. Can we stop the clocks, turn off the lights?
There’s a line from Ben Stiller’s 2013 movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, that comes into my head sometimes. In one scene, Sean Penn’s character, a photojournalist, watches a snow leopard through his viewfinder. ‘Beautiful things don’t ask for attention,’ he says.
It’s a good point that has stuck with me. Many of the things we marvel at in the world are completely indifferent (or allergic) to our attention. Snow leopards are trying to hide. They’d prefer to go about their lives unnoticed as, I think, most animals would.
As Akiko Busch notes in How to Disappear,
— Page 63
In the natural world, this technique is known as crypsis, that ability of an organism to meld with its immediate environment, to go unobserved and undetected through strategies that include sight, smell, sound, texture, and light. Nature is full of such advocates for the inconspicuous life: shells, plants, amphibians, insects, birds, mammals, arctic foxes that turn white before snowfall, glamorous Indonesian crabs with baroque patterning on their shells that mimics the coral in which they live, octopi with cells beneath their skin that can change color to simulate that of the surrounding marine life.
I’m a little jealous of that. Although, for us humans — social creatures immersed in our networked, ‘attention’ economy — such actively-cultivated anonymity seems all but inconceivable. We are defined by being seen, being part of a group. We document what we’ve done and what we hope for. We fill the world with information that we hope will outlast us. We hope to ‘make our mark’ on the world, to be seen after we’re no longer here.
But sometimes when all of that feels like too much, the idea of putting it all down and melding into my surroundings sounds nice. Invisibility feels like a sanctuary. I would like to step aside, disappear into the forest, and let the world go on its way without me.
The simplest remedy for that wish is usually a long walk. Or an afternoon in a hammock with a book. Turning screens off and leaving my phone in another room awhile. Leaving some open time for myself. That’s as close as I can get to invisible, but it usually helps.